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The Cats of Egypt

Egyptian Cat Goddesses and the Underworld

Cat or Lion headed gods were believed to guard certain halls and gates in the Underworld. Lion gods and goddesses are therefore associated with the dead and the Underworld (Duat). The heads of biers depicted the head of a lion or lioness. The foot of biers were often ornamented with a cat's tail. A bier is movable frame on which a coffin, or a corpse, is placed before burial on which it is carried to the grave.

The Temples at Leontopolis were famous as the cult center of the lion gods and cat goddesses. Leontopolis was the name of the ancient city where all the lion-headed and cat-headed gods associated with Ra the sun god were worshipped. Leontopolis was located in the central area of the Nile delta. The ancient Egyptian name for Leontopolis was Taremu.

Cats were first domesticated in ancient Egypt; all were wild until ancient Egyptians began sharing their homes with them over 6,000 years ago. Cats began to appear on objects of everyday life. There were gold cats on intricate bracelets, small golden cat pendants, cats amulets made of soapstone for necklaces and rings. Women made up their faces holding mirrors with cats on the wooden handles and on their cosmetic pots. Ordinary people could enjoy the protection of the cat goddess through their amulets on their clothing or around their necks or in their earlobes. Cats even figured in dream interpretation. In one book of ancient dreams, it was said that if a man sees a cat in a dream, it means he will have a good harvest.

All of today's cats are descended from Egyptian wild cats. Egyptians loved their cats, and considered them to be protectors of the house. Most cats did not have names; they were just called Ta-Mieuw, or "The Meower." Cats were so spoiled in Egypt, that some even wore jewelry, such as earrings. After death, the housecat was mummified and given a decent burial. One prince of Egypt, Thutmose, had his little female cat, "Ta-Miewet", buried with him in a stone coffin of her own.

The cat lived well in Egypt, even when the state religion changed to Christianity, and later, Islam. There is a legend that the Prophet Mohammed so loved cats, that he cut the sleeve off his own coat, rather than wake a kitten that had fallen asleep on it.

The Obsequies of an Egyptian Cat

Obsequies of an Egyptian Cat.

This temple scene is of a cat goddess being worshipped. The lotus flower features strongly in the picture, as does the incense burner. Incense offerings were made on a daily basis and scent played such an important part in temples, daily life and magical rituals. Only priests, priestesses and royalty were allowed inside temples. Ordinary Egyptians worshipped and made offerings at small shrines in their homes. A statue of the cat goddess might have been placed on the altar table and ancient Egyptians prayed and gave offerings to the god whilst kneeling on a reed mat.

John Reinhard Weguelin

Another legend says that Egyptian cats are striped, because those are the finger marks where the Prophet petted their ancestors. Even today, cats are treated better in Egypt than in many other parts of the Near and Middle East.

The cat seems to have served as a retriever in fowling expeditions, and even in fishing. It seems strange that no mention of the cat occurs in the Bible or in any Assyrian record. Its Sanscrit name is marjara, from a root meaning to clean, from the creature's habit of licking herself at her toilet.

July 30, 1893, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Egyptian Reverence of Cats.

The cat is well known as having been an object of worship in Egypt. The Goddess Phsht, many of whose statues may be seen in the British Museum, was always represented with the head of a cat; a temple was dedicated to her at Benl Hassan, which is as old as the eighteenth dynasty, 1500 years B. C. E.

Cats that died were buried in countless thousands in pits near the temple, having been first of all embalmed and converted into mummies. The examination of the skulls proved that the cat, domesticated by the Egyptians, was really a North African species, known to the naturalists as Felis maniculata. This is rather smaller than our ordinary domestic cat and of a yellowish color, with some dark stripes on the body.

The domesticated cats of the Egyptians was venerated by them. Herodotus recounts the fact that when a cat died a natural death in a house the inhabitants shaved oil their eyebrows, and when a fire occurred the people were more anxious to save their cats than to extinguish the conflagration.

Cat a Birdcatcher in Ancient Times

May 12, 1917, Sausalito News, Sausalito, California, U.S.A.

If we may judge from pictorial representations on the buildings, tombs and monuments of the ancient Egyptians, the principal early use made of the animal was as a killer and retriever of birds. To the ancient Egyptians, birds (except the sacred Ibis and the hawk) meant meat. Apparently these people were able to utilize the bird catching propensities of the cat and to train her even to enter the water and catch or retrieve waterfowl.

Cats of Egypt.
A Painting from the Tomb of Nebamun
Standing on a reed boat hunting birds

In the Egyptian gallery of the British museum there is a painting of a man in a boat engaged in throwing a crooked instrument like a boomerang at a flock of birds, and on the same tablet a cat much like our common striped tabby, (the word tabby does not refer to the sex of the cat but to its markings) but with longer legs tall, is represented as seizing a duck by one wing, while she has a shorttailed bird like a quail and another apparently a songbird, under her feet . . .

When humans were predominantly hunters, dogs were of great use, and thus were domesticated long before cats. Cats, on the other hand, became useful to people when we began to settle down, till the earth and store surplus crops. With grain stores came mice, and when the first wild cats wandered into town, the stage was set for what Science study authors call "one of the more successful 'biological experiments' ever undertaken." The cats controlled the abundance of prey in the storehouses.

Cats were also valued for their mysterious and superstitious qualities. There is a myth that the Egyptians once won a battle because of cats. They were fighting a foreign regiment and just at the time of attack by the foreigners, the Egyptian released thousands of cats at the front lines. Seeing the onslaught of these terrifying creatures, the foreign army retreated in panic.

Ubastet (Bastet)

Cats of Egypt.

Also knjown as Bast, Pasht. Cat-goddess of Bubastos and Thebes. Bastet was often depicted as having the body of a woman and the head of a domestic cat. She was associated with the Eye of Ra, acting within the sun god's power. The Egyptians loved Bastet so much that she became a household goddess and protector of women, children and domestic cats. She was also the goddess of sunrise, music, dance, pleasure, as well as family, fertility and birth.

Her supposed evil counterpart was the goddess Sekhmet who represented the cat goddess' destructive force. She is known as the goddess of war and pestilence. But even she was tamed by Ra (who supposedly got her drunk) and she eventually became the powerful protector of humans. Together, Bastet and Sekhmet represented the balance of the forces of nature.

Cults and celebrations were devoted to Bastet by ancient Egyptians. In northern Egypt, around 3200 B.C., the city Bubastis came into being. This was the center of worship for the goddess Bastet, which simply means "she who comes from Bast." Once a year around October 31, the festival of Bastet would occur with hundreds of thousands of people making pilgrimages to Bubastis and other ancient cities including Memphis. There was singing and wine; as the evening ended, there was also prayers to Bastet, accompanied by music and incense.


Sekhmet (Sakhmet) is one of the oldest known Egyptian deities. Her name is derived from the Egyptian word "Sekhem" (which means "power" or "might") and is often translated as the "Powerful One." She is a lioness-headed goddess of Memphis, the Delta, and the thirteenth nome of Upper Egypt. A warlike goddess who attacks the enemies of the gods and of the pharoah. She often wears the solar disk on her head, and is seen as an eye of Ra. She is associated with the cat goddess, Ubastet, who is of a friendlier disposition. Sekhmet was usually depicted in human form with the head of a lioness and crowned by the solar disk, confirming her association with the sun god Ra. She was often closely associated with Hathor (the goddess of joy, music, dance, sexual love, pregnancy and birth). In this partnership, she was seen as the harsh aspect of the friendly Hathor. Sekhmet was closely associated with Kingship. She was often described as the mother of Maahes, the lion god who was a patron of the pharaoh and the pyramid texts (from dynasty five) suggest that the Pharaoh was conceived by Sekhmet.


"Servant of Horus" - a lion-headed god.

Hetmet (Hetmit)

"The Destroyer" is depicted as is Epet, but with a lion's head.


The Cat in Ancient Egypt.

"Taste, Feeling, Wisdom" is a god shown in sphinx form. He is a god of plenty. His name is thought to originate as an onomatopoeia of the act of drawing breath, although it can also be translated, in which situation it means eternity.He often accompanied the solar deity in his boat. The attribute of Atum that mattered most, was one with which Pharaohs were keen to associate themselves. Consequently, as sometimes Pharaohs depicted their divine power in statuary as a sphinx, a seated, human-headed, lion, Hu was occasionally shown in this form. In particular, in years much later after its construction, the Great Sphinx, at Giza, was seen as a representation of Hu.


She was depicted in various cat forms, including a lynx, lion, cheetah or panther or leopard as a war goddess of protection of the early dynastic periods. She is the original cat-deity who kill the serpent Apophis. Later this job taken on by a cat-god called "the one like a she-cat." In this aspect she is shown holding a knife. She was called the "Runner." "She who runs swiftly," was an early deification of legal justice in the form of executions and was believed to make rulings at judgment hall in the Underworld (Duat) where enemies of the pharaoh were decapitated with the claw of Mafdet.


"The One Like a Lioness" a lioness-goddess associated with Hathor from the twelfth and fifth nomes of Upper Egypt.


The ancient Egyptian word for cat, a personification of the sun god Ra, as a cat who killed Apep.


One form of the Goddess Neith, Mehet-Weret also appears as a separate goddess who name means "great flood," connecting her with the fertilizing wters of the Nile flood. She was a cosmic goddess who took teh shape of the cow who raised the sun into the sky each day. She was shown as a pregnant woman with hugh breasts or a cow-headed woman holding a lotus. A lioness-goddess of the city of This.


Menhet, Menhit. A lioness-headed goddess, sometimes, like Sekhmet and other solarized divinties, wore the solar disk. She was worshipped near Heliopolis and also was identified with Neith and confused with the solar serpent Mehen. .


"Nurse:" Aa lioness-headed goddess who is mentioned at Edfu and associated with Hathor as the wife of Horus.


A god who originally had a lion form, who was later shown as a human. Called a "son of Horus" and was worshipped at Kalabsheh in Nubia near the Frist Cataract.

Mihos (a.k.a. Mahos)

The "Grim Looking Lion." A lion-formed war-god, said to be the son of Re and Ubastet. Worshipped in the tenth nome of Upper Egypt and associated with Shu and Nefertem. He was usually represented as a lion rising up in the act of devouring a captive.


Associated with Mihos. A god who is sometimes shown in lion form. At Memphis he is said to be the son of Ptah and Sekhmet, and in Heliopolis he was said to be the son of Re and Ubastet. In art, Nefertum is usually depicted as a beautiful young man having lotus flowers around his head, although, as the son of Bast, he also sometimes has the head of a lion or is a lion or cat reclining. Nefertem was associated both with the scent of the lotus flower and its narcotic effect, which in ancient Egypt was used for medical anesthetics. The ancient Egyptians often carried small statuettes of him as good-luck charms.

Pekhet (Pakhet)

"She who scratches." A lioness goddess of Middle Egypt. A huntress who roamed the desert protecting the living and the dead from evil. The Greeks associated her with Artemis. This early lioness goddess' name means "the one who tears," or "the scratcher." Although the Egyptians had many lion divinities, Pakhet was one of the most aggressive and fearsome. She was especially honored in the desert land of Speos Artemidos (cave of Artemis), a Greco-Egyptian name that points to the identification of Pakhet with that wilderness goddess. There, a cemetery like that of Bast at Bubastis provided a location for the burial of sacred cats.


A mysterious goddess who has a head of a lioness.

Shu (Shuet)

Mummified Cat. Felis Silveris.
Mummified Cat
Felis Silvestris

"The One of Shu" a form of the lioness-headed Tefenet, representing a person's shadow. Shu means dryness and "he who rises up." In a much later myth, representing the terrible weather disaster at the end of the Old Kingdom, it was said that Shu and his siser Tefnut argued, and Tefnut (moisture) left Egypt for Nubia (which was always more temperate). It was said that Shu quickly decided that he missed her, but she changed into a cat that destroyed any man or god that approached.


Also named T-sonet-nofret, "the Fine Sister" a goddess of Ombos, associated with Tefenet. Sometimes shown with a lioness-head or as Hathor. She was wife of Horus of Ombos and had a son, P-neb-taui, by him.


Lioness-headed, or sometimes lioness-bodied, goddess of the air. Wife of Shu (who also sometimes takes Lion-form). She is associated with the hot winds, sun and moisture. Tefnut is a goddess of moisture, moist air, dew and rain. She is the sister and consort of the air god Shu and the mother of Geb and Nut.

Tefnut is a leonine deity, and appears as human with a lioness head when depicted as part of the Great Ennead of Heliopolis. The other frequent depiction is as a lioness, but Tefnut can also be depicted as fully human. In her fully or semi anthropomorphic form, she is depicted wearing a wig, topped either with a uraeus serpent, or a uraeus and solar disk, and she is sometimes depicted as a lion headed serpent. Her face is sometimes used in a double headed form with that of her brother Shu on collar counterpoises.

Tefnut is a daughter of the solar god Atum-Ra. Married to her brother, Shu, she is mother of Nut, the sky and Geb, the earth. Tefnut's grandchildren were Osiris, Isis, Set and Nephthys. Alongside her father, brother, children and grandchildren, she is a member of the Ennead of Heliopolis.

Weret-hekau (Urthekau)

Weret-hekau (Urthekau) was a lion headed goddess who was also depicted as a snake with the head of a woman. She was the wife of Re-Horakhty and wore his symbol (the sun disc) on her head along with a cobra on her brow. As she took either the form of a lion or a snake and protected the sun god, she is also associated with Wadjet and Sekhmet and the story of the "eye of Ra." Because she was a powerful symbol of protection, her name along with the symbol of a snake often appears on magical weapons buried with the dead to help them protect themselves in the underworld.

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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